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Red Bull takes legal action against English Gin Producer Bullards over the word ‘Bull’

World-wide market leader with thousands of employees against a small brewery with long-standing tradition. Who is on the right side of history and law?

By

Igor Demcak

What is Red Bull’s claim?

Red Bull is opposing an application to register the mark ‘Bullards’ before the UK Intellectual Property Office (IPO). In February 2021, the Austrian soft drinks giant informed Bullards’ lawyer that there is a “likelihood of confusion on behalf of the public” with regards to both brand names including the word “bull”.

The likelihood of confusion is one of the most common reasons brands use to oppose other trademark registrations. It means that the marks are so similar and the goods and/or services for which they are used are so related that consumers would mistakenly believe they come from the same source. However, even if two marks are found to be confusingly similar, a likelihood of confusion will exist only if the goods and/or services to which the trademark applies are related to each other.

Red Bull stated that it was willing to resolve the dispute if the gin firm removed a series of goods and services – including energy drinks, non-alcoholic beverages, and events – from its trademark application and registration.

Who are Bullards Spirits?

Bullards take great pride in their heritage, as their name is now synonymous with the history of Norwich and gin dating all the way back to 1837, when Richard Bullard founded his first The Anchor Brewery. 180 years on from Richard Bullard’s success, Bullards Spirits remains a family-run business thanks to the dedication of the fifth and sixth generation of the descendants to the production of handcrafted, artisanal gin. They have received multiple awards, including World’s Best London Dry Gin, Distillery Of The Year, as well as six Global Gin Guide Awards.

Being threatened by a company with net income of over 800 million euros was a great shock to the owners of this small brewery. Russell Evans, founder of Bullards Spirits, was advised to do as the letter asked as Red Bull have got “deeper pockets”.

“Well, I don’t think deeper pockets wins every case,” commented Mr. Evans.

Contrary to Red Bull’s claims, Mr. Evans stated that there is no likelihood of confusion, since Bullards Spirits never did or even intended to produce energy drinks. They are prepared to go to court, since if they were to concede, then they would be admitting that Red Bull’s claims are justified.

Do small businesses stand a chance?

Cases of big brands putting claims against less well-known companies are far from uncommon and the results tend to be individual for each dispute. It is, therefore, very important for small businesses to get familiar with the fundamentals of the trademark law as well as other ways they can protect their brands at the very onset of their business operations. And if your trademark has received opposition, it doesn’t necessarily mean you will have to give up your name or products. Trademark laws work in favour of companies that can prove uniqueness of their brand and distinctiveness of their goods and services.

Igor Demcak
Igor Demcak
Trademark Attorney

Founder & CEO of Trama

7 year experience in IP protection

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